The Light of Faith – How I was Converted by two College Classmates I Never Knew
Seeds of the Word (Week 7 of 11)
In “New” atheist and secularist circles today, faith is regularly ridiculed. It is presented as a pre-scientific mumbo jumbo, Bronze Age credulity, the surrender of the intellect, unwarranted submission to authority, etc. Time and time again, the late Christopher Hitchens, echoing Immanuel Kant, called on people to be intellectually responsible, to think for themselves, to dare to know. This coming of age would be impossible, he insisted, without the abandonment of religious faith. — Seeds of the Word (“Why Faith is Indeed a Light”, Paragraph 1)
25 years ago, I majored in English and Political Science – two areas of study where the enlightened were encouraged to drop their faith at the front door in order to allow for a “free” and “realistic” exchange of ideas. At the time my faith was virtually nonexistent, so I had no problem tossing it aside and diving right into the discussion. I was thrilled to be engaged in such great intellectual stimulation!
An avid reader who traversed the campus library in search of Kant, Voltaire and Lock, I honestly believed that I was too smart to have faith. I acknowledged in my heart that it was a nice “crutch”, but that it was meant for those who were, maybe a little slower on the uptake. For those who were perhaps not as learned as I.
Unlike some students, I didn’t turn my back on my childhood faith. Truth be told, as a child my access to religion consisted of a church service maybe once or twice a year at Christmas or Easter, so I didn’t have much to go on. Whether because their interfaith marriage (Catholic and Methodist) left them torn, or because of a lack of commitment on both their parts, my parents pretty much dropped their respective beliefs at the door of the little chapel where they were wed, and my siblings and I were raised with very little reference to God.
Not surprisingly, I sought knowledge with a vengeance, but spent very little, if any, time considering the notion of faith. I remember asking a friend, “What if, a hundred years from now, people smile as they share stories about our God, just as we smile when we read Greek Mythology?” ‘Weren’t they cute to think up all those crazy stories?’ they’ll say. ‘They sure are entertaining!‘” What little time I spent thinking about the Gospel left me confused. The idea that God came down from heaven to die on a cross and save man from his sins? Ridiculous.
But then came a light.
While sitting in a Political Science class my junior year in college, I listened to an atheist political philosophy professor go on and on about how Christianity was invented as a means of suppressing the poor. In a tirade that was part History, part Philosophy lesson, he assured us that the “powers that be” in the political world took specific steps to control the masses. He added that The Beatitudes were a great way to fool the downtrodden into thinking they had much to look forward to after death, if only they would suffer their lot quietly now. Blessed are the poor, for they shall be comforted; blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth… “This,” he declared, “was an ingenious concept – because the ‘powers that be’ knew the dead would not come back to prove them wrong.”
I have to admit that his lecture made a lot of sense to me. I was sold. Right there in Political Philosophy 301, I became an atheist.
For about two minutes.
I will never forget what happened when our professor paused for questions.
Two students who sat in the middle of the classroom, raised their hands in tandem and took turns politely contradicting the professor’s claims. To this day, I don’t know whether those two students knew each other. To be honest, I don’t even remember what they said. Neither do I recall how the professor responded. All I remember was that these two students were polite, confident and beyond reproach. They knew what they believed. They also knew that the instructor was wrong.
I, on the other hand, had no clue. I had been ready to sign away any possibility of an all-powerful Creator Being based on a few words from a college professor. When he spoke, his words made sense. But now, to hear these students respond – they made great sense too. I remember thinking, I have no idea who’s right; but I do wish that I had as much confidence in the truth – whatever it is – as these two classmates. Frankly, they were more certain about the truth than the professor. I know this because when they confronted him, he was unsure how to respond. It was almost as if he had his basic talking points, but, like a straw man, they fell apart immediately upon close examination.
I never met those two students. I don’t know their names. But I have to wonder how many straw-man arguments from college professors or others have led college students astray over the years? On the other hand, how many classes are blessed with students who will stand up for the Truth?
Imagine had those students remained silent. What if they had known the truth, but had lacked the courage to share? To raise questions?
Bishop Barron says,
In the absence of faith in the one God, a person necessarily drifts from idol to idol, that is to say, from one fleeting value to another. One of the Pope’s most brilliant observations is that idolatry, therefore, is always a type of polytheism, a chase after a multiplicity of gods, none of which can satisfy: “Idolatry does not offer a journey but rather a plethora of paths leading nowhere and forming a vast labyrinth.” – p. 125
This was me. Not fleeting from value to value, but from belief to belief. Searching for truth here, there and yonder, accepting what sounded good, I was never really satisfied. I amassed knowledge for the sake of knowledge, believing that somehow a greater intellect would serve me well.
On the other hand,
By accepting God’s overture, the faith-filled person finds the supreme value, which unifies and gives direction to the whole of his life; he basks in the light, which illumines every aspect of his existence. – p. 125
Those two students will never realize what they brought to the darkness that day. Their faith led me to ask questions in a way that I had never thought to ask. Their light shone. And to this day, I bask in it. They led me to seek The Truth, rather than merely seeking knowledge. Because of them, I no longer just wanted to know; I wanted to KNOW. Their faith provided a candle – a light that truly was a beacon of hope in a world of darkness. A world that – but for the brilliance of their light – I might never have realized was dim.
Who knows how many other unsuspecting students were enlightened that day?
In Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), Pope Francis tells us
Faith is passed on, we might say, by contact, from one person to another, just as one candle is lighted from another. Christians, in their poverty, plant a seed so rich that it becomes a great tree, capable of filling the world with its fruit.
Thank you, God, for placing those students in my path. May I , too, pass the candle of faith on to someone others who – like my former self – may unknowingly live in the shadows of material “enlightenment”.
Why it Matters that our Democracy Trusts in God – Why Anti-Catholic Prejudice Ought to Bother Everyone
1. Whether a Convert to the Faith, or a Cradle Catholic, do you have a conversion story to share? Who shared their light with you?
2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!
For More Information on the Book Club: http://spiritualdirection.com/csd-book-club